ATHENS (Reuters) - Pharmacists from the wider Athens region, home to about half of Greece's population, said on Thursday customers must pay full price for medication until the country's main healthcare provider pays a subsidy backlog of nearly $1 billion.
State healthcare insurance pays most of the cost of drugs in Greece but pharmacists say the state owes them 762 million euros ($944 million) for drugs delivered on credit since 2011 and they can no longer afford to deliver them without payment.
Earlier this week the pharmacists' association had warned of the risk of drug shortages, which the health ministry denies.
"It's a tragic situation," said Dimitris Karageorgiou, general secretary of the Attica pharmacists' union, who said that 120 pharmacies had declared bankruptcy in the last few months due to recession and the lack of subsidy payouts.
The EOPYY healthcare organization, which groups Greece's four biggest public insurance funds, said on Thursday it would have paid back 200 million euros of arrears by Friday and would pay the rest by the end of next week.
Until then Athenians must show proof of payment to their insurance fund to get reimbursement for medication.
Popi Metaxa, a retired doctor and volunteer at the KEFI Cancer Society in Athens, told Reuters that its members were worried by the pharmacists' decision and that problems were likely to arise should the situation continue.
"We've been inundated by phone calls from our members today after the pharmacists' union decision was announced," he said.
(Reporting by Maria Paravantes; Editing by Louise Ireland and Ingrid Melander)